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Published September 2006 | public
Journal Article

Conceptual Analysis Naturalized: A Metaphilosophical Case Study


[Introduction] Once upon a time, possibly for a brief moment in interwar Vienna or postwar Oxford, but more likely in a fairy-tale kingdom, there was a clear understanding of the goal of philosophy. The subject matter of philosophy was a cluster of concepts, typically concepts that are presupposed in science or in other aspects of human endeavor; such concepts include knowledge, causation, freedom, personal identity, goodness, existence, and so on. The goal was to analyze these concepts—to give necessary and sufficient conditions for their application—in terms of concepts that were deemed less problematic (such as empirical regularities). The phrase 'conceptual analysis' is often used to denote this very specific enterprise. But it would not be unreasonable to broaden the definition of 'analysis' to include the kind of careful scrutiny to which philosophers continue to subject concepts like knowledge, freedom, and so on. Conceptual analysis in this broader sense still comprises much of philosophy today. But under this broadened definition of 'analysis', conceptual analysis is no longer the exclusive provenance of philosophy. Empirical psychology attempts to explore the nature of our concepts in a systematic way; indeed, it is hard to imagine how the investigation into the nature of our concepts could fail to have an empirical dimension. What is the relationship between these two very different modes of inquiry? Can the results of empirical psychology inform the philosophical project of conceptual analysis? I attempt to explore these issues using my favorite philosophical concept, causation. Of course I will be happy if my explorations make a positive contribution to the understanding of causation, but my main purpose is to treat the concept of causation as a metaphilosophical case study.

Additional Information

© 2006 The Journal of Philosophy, Inc. For comments and suggestions I would like to thank Alex Byrne, David Chalmers, Richard Corry, Clark Glymour, Alison Gopnik, Frank Jackson, Joshua Knobe, Sarah-Jane Leslie, Sarah McGrath, Ruth Millikan, Shaun Nichols, Dan Osherson, Hugh Price, Kim Sterelny, Michael Weisberg, Jim Woodward, and audience members at Australian National University, Florida State University, Princeton University, and the University of Sydney.

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October 26, 2023